For around a decade, a local organization has been quietly serving struggling readers in the area, helping ensure that all Stokes County residents have the opportunity to become successful readers.
Buffalo Creek Literacy Project, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is completely run by volunteers and serves residents of Stokes and eastern Surry counties. The organization has primarily focused its efforts on adults for the past decade, but now it is expanding to serve more children. Services are free to adults and children who want to learn to read or to improve their reading skills, and their participation in the program is kept confidential.
In the fall of 2011, Stokes County school teacher Mary Lee turned the job of director over to Jeff Pratt, a former educator and private school administrator from Florida who taught for three years at Southeastern Stokes Middle School in Walnut Cove. As director of Buffalo Creek Literacy Project, Pratt hopes to expand the project’s efforts working with children.
“Nearly one in five students has some difficulty learning to read,” he noted. “I truly believe that catching students by third grade who are experiencing reading difficulties, and being able to augment what their teachers are already doing for them, provides the best long-term solution to illiteracy.”
In the 2010-11 school year, Buffalo Creek worked with seven students at a local elementary school. Pratt said these students were all reading below grade level, but between the instruction they received from their classroom teachers and the added help from twice-a-week tutoring, students experienced significant growth.
Pratt said, “At the same time, we must continue to help adults who are also struggling to read. We have the opportunity to help them change their lives in a very real and substantial way.”
The organization has relied on the help of many Stokes County residents who serve on the board of directors and as tutors. Long-time Buffalo Creek board member John Hartman states in a news release: “In earlier generations, it was possible, although never easy, to earn a living and contribute to the well-being of the community without well-developed literacy skills. Farming and manufacturing, for example, afforded many opportunities that are less readily available today.
“I have known many folks for whom, in earlier times, the willingness to work hard, combined with a wealth of good sense, was enough. For better or worse, we are no longer a society that provides economic opportunities based on those qualities alone. The ability to read and write are important in every aspect of life.”
Right now the organization is serving 14 children and nine adults through 13 tutors. Pratt said the volunteers with the organization have the goal “to identify as many students as they can who would benefit from Buffalo Creek’s services and then train enough volunteer tutors to accommodate those students.”
Pratt said, “We take a lot of things in life, like reading, for granted. To understand how different life would be as a non-reader, imagine that all the print around you was in a strange language you didn’t understand, and then try to imagine how you would succeed in school, work or do the simplest things like order food at a restaurant. Imagine how not being able to read would make you feel about yourself.”
Buffalo Creek Literacy Project sees high success rates, but students and tutors have to be willing to commit to the program. Typically, services are provided twice per week for an hour each session and will extend for multiple years. Buffalo Creek primarily uses the Wilson Reading System, which was originally designed for adults but also works well as a supplement to the curriculum that is currently being used in Stokes County elementary schools, Pratt said.
While all tutors volunteer their hours, the training materials are costly. It costs about $250 to equip a tutor with the materials they need to work with a student, Pratt said. Initial tutor training takes about 12 hours to complete.
The organization was founded by Mary Lee around a decade ago. She explained, “I teach English 6-12 and have taught special needs math and English, too, but never understood why such otherwise smart kids had trouble reading.”
“I knew the difficulties were not the students’ fault,” she continued, “and I did not want to only teach those who find reading easy.”
Lee said she knew there had to be an answer to the fundamental question of why these smart children had trouble learning to read.
“If some can take an engine apart and put it together again, can understand higher-level math, can often wax eloquently about music and scientific concepts, then why are they struggling to read?” she asked herself.
So Lee began to explore answers to why some people struggle learning how to read. She learned from scientists with the neuropsychology department at Wake Forest University that dyslexia is usually the cause of reading and writing difficulties and that it is correctable. The dyslexia is inherited and is not related to intelligence, she learned. A two-week intensive workshop in Chapel Hill put her on the path to understanding how educational therapies could help correct neural-processing problems in the brain. Successful use of the Wilson Reading System with children led her to try the system with adults in the literacy program, and Lee said the results have been astounding.
“Now, if students and tutors are consistent and do indeed follow the instructional directions, everyone learns to read,” she remarked.
With numerous projects on her plate, Lee decided to turn over leadership of the organization to Pratt last year, though she continues to work with the project. She feels confident in his ability to lead the organization.
Pratt said, “I am very passionate about the mission of Buffalo Creek Literacy Project and want to see illiteracy in Stokes County become a part of the past, the only way it can be done — one reader at a time.”
The organization is always looking for students and tutors. Pratt says to potential volunteers: “It is as rewarding a thing as I’ve ever done … We will provide you with all the training and support you need.”
Pratt tells those who may be embarrassed to request services from the organization that they have nothing to be ashamed of. He says, “It’s no indication of your intelligence. (Reading is) just a skill that will open doors for you.”
If you would like to volunteer as a tutor, know of someone who would benefit from Buffalo Creek’s services or would like to make a tax deductible contribution to Buffalo Creek Literacy Project, contact Jeff Pratt by phone at 336-816-7758, by email at email@example.com, or by mail at P.O. Box 626, Germanton, NC 27019. More information can be found online at www.bclpstokes.org.